Searching for Indigenous Language Books in the British Library: The Legacies of James Pilling’s Bibliography of the Languages of the North American Indians (online, 24 March 2023)

‘Searching for Indigenous Language Books in the British Library: The Legacies of James Pilling’s Bibliography of the Languages of the North American Indians‘ (online event).

TSRG-British Library-AHRC CDA candidate Rebecca Slatcher will present her paper “Searching for Indigenous Language Books in the British Library: The Legacies of James Pilling’s Bibliography of the Languages of the North American Indians” at the prestigious State University of New York conference sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography, “New Directions in Indigenous Book History,” to take place via Zoom on Friday, 24 March 2023.

Abstract

In 1889, James Constantine Pilling’s Proof-sheets of a Bibliography of the Languages of the North American Indians could be found on the cataloguing desk at the centre of the British Museum Library’s reading room. This was one of a hundred copies ‘distributed to collaborators only’ for ‘corrections, additions, and criticisms’ on Pilling’s attempt to compile everything printed in a North American Indigenous language. A note on the inside of this copy reads, ‘To Henry Stevens Esq., with the compliments of James C Pilling’, and indicates that Pilling sent it from his office at the Bureau of Ethnology, Washington D.C, to the British Museum’s agent for American books. Pilling corresponded with, and visited, the British Museum Library and his work drew awareness to the museum’s materials. Today, Pilling’s Bibliography has been inherited by the British Library, along with a significant collection of Indigenous language books. 

This talk uses Pilling’s work to interrogate the British Library’s holdings, how books have been collected, how we find books and how institutions have defined what is and is not a language book. Firstly, I will explore how Pilling constructed his bibliography through a correspondence that signified a considerable exchange of both information about books in Indigenous languages, and the books themselves. Secondly, I will propose that Pilling’s project strengthened ways of categorising Indigenous language books that impact how those books are found in the library today. Finally, by focusing on the Indigenous authors, names, and labour included in the correspondence and printed Bibliography, the talk suggests the limitations of the work and the acts of resistance within it. 

Event details

Catch Rebecca Slatcher on Friday, 24 March 2023.

This online event is free to attend, registration will open soon.